MPs vote to reunite families torn apart by conflict

By agency reporter
March 17, 2018

On 16 March 2018, MPs from across the political divide voted  in favour of changing the law to enable families divided by conflict and persecution to be reunited in Britain.

A Private Member’s Bill from the SNP’s Angus MacNeil MP, the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill, received cross-party backing from 129 MPs, taking it one step closer to becoming law.

This Bill would allow a wider range of family members to be reunited with refugees in the UK. It would provide a route for child refugees to grow up with their families, and allow young people who have turned 18 a better chance of being reunited with their parents. It would also reintroduce legal aid so that refugees who have lost everything can afford to navigate the complicated process of being reunited with their families.

Currently, the UK Government’s rules prevent refugees in Britain from being reunited with anyone other than their partner or children under 18. Child refugees who arrive in the UK alone are also unable to bring their parents to join them under the current rules. Such a restriction sets the UK apart from most other countries in the EU.

The groundswell of support in Parliament is putting growing pressure on the UK Government to back the new rules. A host of famous faces have also come out in support of the Families Together campaign including Patrick Stewart, Gwendoline Christie, Peter Capaldi, Vivienne Westwood, Anish Kapoor, Alan Cumming, Juliet Stevenson, the Kaiser Chiefs, Anita Rani, Laura Mvula, Theo James, Anoushka Shankar, and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassadors David Morrissey and Neil Gaiman.

Following the vote, the Refugee Family Reunion Bill will progress to the next stage where it will be examined further by a committee of MPs.

Mr MacNeil said the vote, "marks a welcome step forward for many refugees in the UK who are desperate to be reunited with their loved ones.

“It’s fantastic that this new law received the backing of colleagues from across the political divide. It’s clear that this issue isn’t about party politics, it’s about doing the right thing and it was pretty obvious to all of us that families belong together and that children belong with their parents.

“I hope that Ministers come to the same compassionate conclusion: they change their mind and alter the rules – putting an end to the misery of refugee families with the stroke of a pen.”

Reacting to the news, Yohannes, a 19-year-old refugee from Eritrea who is living in the UK, said, "I’m so happy that MPs are helping to bring refugee families together. I came to the UK as a child refugee and three years on, I’m still living here alone, while my sister is stuck in a camp in Ethiopia. The camp isn’t safe and she is a girl on her own – I am scared she might be hurt. I’m studying and working right now, but it’s hard to think about the future when I’m so worried about my little sister.

"I hope the government will now listen and change the rules so my sister can join me here in safety."

The proposed law is backed by a coalition of organisations, including the Refugee Council, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, Amnesty International, the British Red Cross, Oxfam and Student Action for Refugees (STAR).

The organisations agree that widening family reunion rules would allow more refugees a safe and certain future, and could remove the risk of people taking dangerous journeys to be reunited with their loved ones in the UK.

Maurice Wren, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, said, “Today offers a glimmer of hope to refugee families who have been torn apart by war and persecution. At the moment, the UK Government’s restrictive rules leave refugees isolated, traumatised and alone in the UK, knowing that the people they love still face untold dangers in other countries.

“It’s vital that MPs stand up for refugee families by supporting this Bill which will enable families to live together, focus on the future and rebuild their lives together in safety.”

Alex Fraser, UK director of head of refugee support and restoring family links at British Red Cross, said, “This is a hugely positive step towards improving the lives of refugees who have been torn apart from their families by conflict and persecution.

“At its heart, the Bill is about keeping loved ones together, but it’s also about providing a safe and legal route to protection that could enable more refugees to rebuild their lives in safety together.”

Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, said, "Today's backing from MPs shows that, along with the British public, politicians across the spectrum care deeply about reuniting refugee families.

"There are hundreds of child refugees in the UK who have arrived alone. On their arrival in the UK they face a multitude of new struggles - a new language and culture as well as the psychological fallout from incredibly traumatic experiences back in their home country.

"MPs voting in favour of the Bill today is a significant step towards reuniting vulnerable children with their families. As the Bill continues its journey through parliament we hope that MPs continue to show their support and send a message to the Government that child refugees in this country have the right to be reunited with their families."

Actor Juliet Stevenson, who has also lent her support to Families Together, said, “We can’t change the horrific experiences young refugees have faced escaping war and persecution. But what we can do is support them in rebuilding their lives. Offering safety and security is only the first step. Just like our own children, young refugees need their families around them to thrive."

* Amnesty International


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